I was once speaking to my rav on the yeshiva’s official stance regarding kollel and work. He told me that they believe that there is no reason a person should purposely keep himself a card-carrying member of the “Am HaAretz Club” (Ignoramus Club), and that it is encouraged to start off one's marriage in kollel for a few years if possible, before going out into the working world. By sitting and learning for a few years, hopefully, he can build himself up with knowledge and strengthen himself to continue even when he’s working full-time.
I often think of that “Am HaAretz Club,” and I often feel that I’m part of it, and still pulling myself out.
We’ve been learning the halachos of Shabbos over the past year (or has it been two? I can’t remember). Due to work and family, and a lack of sleep, I cannot get myself into the depths of the halachos as much as I would like, but I’ve certainly been hitting all the basics, from the Gemara and its array of commentators, to the Tur, and his commentators, and the Shulchan Oruch, and his commentators, through the Mishna Bruera and modern day rabbis. And there are some times when you learn a halacha well, and you realize that all these years, you’ve been hearing the opposite. Not actually seeing it, but hearing it here and there. Then, when you finally SEE the halacha and understand its background, you realize . . . “I’m part of the Am Haretz Club!”
Then I think to myself, “I’ve got to keep going, or I’ll have very few excuses after a 120 years!”
Okay . . . on to Torah!
Parshas Balak is a very appropriate parsha to have right before the “Three Weeks” of mourning begins. Starting Sunday and ending on Tisha B’Av, we begin a period of mourning over the destruction of Yerushaliyim, the Beis HaMikdash, and the 2000-year-old exile. It is a time that we naturally focus on the negative things that have occurred throughout our long history and, hopefully, give thought to what we can do, as individuals, to help lessen the pain.
However, there is an aspect which is often overlooked, and that is the love that Hashem still has for His nation, despite everything we have suffered. Many Christians believe that Hashem became so sick of the Jewish people that He simply “changed His mind,” and picked a new nation.
Last week, we dealt with the Jewish people’s complaints for a lack of water. In the end of this week’s parsha, we see that people fell for the women of Moav. Yet, what’s the story in between these two negative stories?
Balak hires Bilaam, a non-Jewish prophet, to come and curse the Jewish people. Bilaam agrees on condition that he will only do and say that which Hashem tells him to do. He tells Balak to set up sacrifices to Hashem, and afterwards he will go into a meditative trance and see what Hashem has to say.
Rav Pincus, after speaking in detail about sacrifices and their meanings, which I cannot even hope to replicate here, explains that Bilaam was trying to get to the "core" of Hashem, hoping to find a place where Hashem does not truly care for the Jewish people.
For example, when one sees a dead ant outside, he doesn’t have any feelings for it. There’s no connection between the person and the ant. If his pet fish dies, maybe he feels a little bad. A pet dog? He will certainly feel bad. That will last for a few weeks or a few months. But after that, he probably won’t shed any tears. A good friend? For sure longer. A parent or spouse? Most never recover from such a loss. The deeper the connection there is, the deeper the love.
Bilaam wanted to see if he could get to that place where the connection stops. He thought the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish nation was like that of a man and his dog. At some point, the love stops. And what does Hashem reply in kind?
“I see this nation from the mountain tops, and gaze on it from the heights. It is a nation dwelling alone at peace, not counting itself among other nations. Yaakov is like the dust; who can count his hordes? Who can number the seed of Israel? Let me die the death of the upright, but let my end be like his. . . .
“God is not human that He should be false, nor mortal that He should change His mind. Shall He say something and not do it, or speak and not fulfill? It is a blessing that I have taken, and when there is such a blessing I cannot reverse it. G-d does not look at wrongdoing in Yaakov, and He sees no vice in Israel. G-d their Lord is with them, and they have the King’s friendship. . . .
“How good are your tens, Yaakov, your tabernacles, Israel. They stretch out like streams, like gardens by the river; they are like the aloes G-d has planted, like cedars by the water. His dipper shall overflow, and his crops shall have abundant water”
These are only a few excerpts.
Despite all the pitfalls that befell us before this parsha, and all those after this parsha, Hashem still proclaims his deepest love for the Jewish people.
As we enter this period of mourning, we should keep this in mind. We have not been put in permanent exile to be punished eternally. Despite all the terrible physical and spiritual burdens that have accompanied us, we are still being watched over carefully from Above.
Have a wonderful Shabbos and a meaningful fast.